Martin318is wrote:a much larger percentage of people will say, "I'm a Catholic/Mormon/Muslim/Jew/etc". In thoe cases, the people have grown up with the labelled religion since birth.
I know that I'm taking this sentence out of context, but it links in with a point I wanted to make which also relates to the IQ^2 debate that the Hitch posted. Often, religious labels get attached to people because of the families or countries they were born in. Why is the UK a christian country? I guess because in the past 1,500 years Christianity has been the most prominent religion there. Many people there would probably describe themselves as Christians although their religious observance is limited to at most carol singing at Christmas.
Firstly, religion should be the choice of an individual and not some form of cultural osmosis. A year or two ago I read a book of interviews with around 20 Polish atheists and agnostics. One thing that rang a bell with me was that one of them said that many people treated him as if he were missing something like a limb. People could not understand that his atheism was a positive choice rather than a lack of belief.
Secondly, I watched the first two speakers of the IQ^2 debate. The proposal was "This house believes we would be better off without religion", which can be seen as a question of opinion and so even if they argued until the end of the solar system, there would still be holes in the arguments. Hitchens described the religious background to many conflicts. One problem with his argument (as I touched on above) is that religion interacts with other factors like nationality (and politics). For centuries, being Catholic would have been seen by Polish or Irish nationalists as part of their identity in opposition to say "British Protestantism" or "Russian Orthoxody", even if that Catholic identity did not involve any real religious belief. That is to say that religion is tied up with tribalism, which is a necessary precursor to institutionalised religion. On the other hand, it is true that religion (or at least religious labels) is used in perpetuating "tribal divisions". For example, in the Western media (unless there was a particularly in depth article, which did not occur very often) Serbs were Serbs (not Orthodox), Croatians were Croatians (not Catholic), but Bosnians were Muslim.
With regard to Dr. Smythie, who was the first to oppose the proposal. True, religious feelings have been foremost in the creation of beautiful temples. I couldn't help but feeling awe at the beauty of Chartres Cathedral. However, I also wonder about what lengths common men were put to, in order to build such monuments, since the church's power was huge. Also, a lack of religion certainly does not mean a lack of appreciation of beauty or the creative arts. I find the vast majority of religious art to be formulaic (possibly because there is so much of it) and arguably the greatest (and my favourite by a long way) from that genre is Caravaggio, who definitely was not one of the church's most beloved sons.
Smythie also argued that the proposal was senseless, since by nature we are all spiritual. My impressions are that the spirituality of many (possibly the majority of) people is a minor aspect of their lives and results in many cases from the fact that religious observance or allegiance results from the social acceptance of such acts. He seemed to argue that religious observance led to social cohesion. However, it also promoted tribalism and social control. Enough for now.